When Liam O’Meara looks out windows, he can see into the past.
He’s standing in the lobby of the visitor centre at Richmond Barracks, pointing through the glass doors to where the courtyard used to be, with one arm.
He’s telling stories about the soldiers who used to assemble there, out back. All lined up, ready to go to war.
“I could never cross here without, in my mind, hearing the shouts of the sergeant majors and the troops and the marching of men and all that,” he says.
His other arm is resting on a podium, his elbow touching the guest book where visitors sign their names.
There are other books on that podium. Some of them O’Meara wrote himself.
One of them is a thick volume about the barracks and its history up until it was turned into the tenement buildings known as Keogh Square. He spent 15 years writing that one, going through waist-high and crumbing ledgers in the National Library.
That was before Google, he says.
O’Meara can picture the place through all its changes – first the barracks; then the tenements, and an all boys’ Christian Brothers school in the main buildings; then the flats of St Michael’s Estate, where he and his wife brought up two of their children.
O’Meara was part of a group of locals who lobbied to restore the barracks, which reopened in 2016, as part of the commemoration of the Easter Rising.
Another book on the podium, added recently, didn’t take him quite as long to write. It’s a small one, about Goldenbridge Cemetery, visible across the green from the front doors of the barracks. It was published by Glasnevin Trust.
“First of all, look at the view you have of the cemetery. We’re privileged to have this view,” O’Meara says. It wasn’t there when the barracks was built, and then after it was built, it was obscured by buildings.
The tour of the barracks includes the cemetery now, since it reopened in 2017. It had been closed for 148 years.
O’Meara knows everyone here. The man behind the front desk follows him out the front doors.
“You going to the graveyard? Oh, it’s fabuloso over there, it really is, with the light,” the man says. “They’re doing a lot of work over there, they really are.”
O’Meara didn’t mean to become a historian. It just happened. He’s really a poet at heart.
It all started about 30 years ago. He and his friend Michael O’Flanagan were running a poetry workshop in Inchicore called The Syllables.
He went to the Gerard Manley Hopkins festival in Kildare and thought they could do a similar thing in Inchicore.
So he took a few weeks off to research the poet Francis Ledwidge and his association with the barracks.
O’Meara never did go back to his job as a credit controller. That was 30 years and 10 books ago.
He’s walking on a paved path across the field in front of the barracks now, towards the cemetery gates. Underfoot, bits of broken glass glitter in the sunlight.
Goldenbridge was a non-denominational cemetery. But that was a legal loophole Daniel O’Connell used to set up a place Catholics could bury their loved ones.
Before that, they were buried in Protestant cemeteries and people often weren’t allowed to pray at the graves, O’Meara says.
Glasnevin Cemetery opened soon after. A “city of bodies”, O’Meara calls it. But he loves this three (Irish) acre “garden” cemetery, because it’s so small.
“It was closed for so long, that meant it kept its original look. It’s very gothic looking, very Dracula, very Bram Stoker,” he says. It’s not been spoiled with shiny, marble headstones like a lot of other cemeteries.
That’s one positive that came out of the graveyard’s extended closure. On the whole, it was unfair, O’Meara says. The cemetery was blamed for contaminated water at the barracks, but he says it wasn’t the cemetery at all.
This area has a history of sewage problems, he says. “Because of the open sewer, Inchicore never did as well as other villages, never prospered.”
Every time he comes here, O’Meara says, he sees something new. He walks through the iron gates into the tidy, square cemetery.
“We’re just going to walk around here and see what we come across.”
The air in the cemetery has the hazy look of a humid midsummer day, even though it’s barely spring, and not that warm. The grass is dotted with large grey headstones as tall as people. Yew trees shade some of the stones. There are clouds of midges above the ones in the sunlight.
O’Meara motions to a grave. It’s “the main man”, W.T. Cosgrave, the first head of the Irish Free State. He points out another, belonging to Eugene Lynch, a little boy from Inchicore who was accidentally shot during the Rising.
“A lot of people come to see this,” he says.
The place was still closed to the public when he was writing this book, so O’Meara slipped in during funerals. “And then I was afraid I’d be locked in. You don’t want to be locked into a cemetery.”
He stops to admire a tall silver beech tree. “Some say Daniel O’Connell planted that. That’s the legend anyway.”
In the far corner of the graveyard, a part that hasn’t been completely cleared yet, are mass graves from both the Famine and a cholera epidemic, O’Meara says. Thousands of people are buried there.
O’Meara walks to a curved spot in the stone wall nearby. This is his favourite find from his research. A bench used to be here for mourners, called the seat of melancholia.
“You sat there and contemplated your woes,” he says.
Behind the wall, a Luas whirrs past. Outside, by the canal, there used to be a trench so that grave robbers couldn’t climb in.
Next to the curved part of the wall is a little stone plaque, its lettering worn down with time. “Memento Mori,” it reads. In Latin – remember your mortality.
For 17 years, O’Meara looked down on this cemetery from his third-floor window in St. Michael’s Estate.
“I was looking at foxes and squirrels and grouse and all sorts of things,” he says. “So it was like a little bit of rural countryside in the middle of suburbia.”
Things started out great. They were luxury apartments, and anyone would have wanted to live there in the early days, he says. Then it started getting run-down.
“I know for a fact the authorities had made up their mind they were going to pull the place down, and they weren’t going to invest any more money in it, so they just abandoned it. And things were allowed to happen. I was there at the time.”
From his window, O’Meara could see children playing in the cemetery. Their playground had been removed, so they had nowhere else to go. They’d climb over the wall to get inside, and later a good-natured caretaker called Mr Donohoe would chase them out. O’Meara’s kids played there, too.
Later, during the drug epidemic that hit the estate hard, it wasn’t safe for children anymore. There were syringes everywhere.
He says he wrote his best poetry in that flat, but he hasn’t written about his experience of living in the flats.
“[I]t’s just too close to home. I couldn’t go there … No, it was horrific,” he says.
He’s standing in a shadow now, under a canopy of trees. He talks slower, stops cracking jokes. He crosses his arms over his chest, and brings one hand up to his chin.
In the hallways, outside of his doorstep, O’Meara remembers people passed out on the floor, syringes and blood on the ground.
“And then you had to worry about your own kids getting involved, and no matter who you are – you could be the von Trapp family – and it wouldn’t matter, your kids were going to get involved, you know? How could they not?”
Two of his children “got caught up in it”. His son is getting his life back now, so many years later. A lot of the kids they grew up with didn’t make it.
“I don’t want to write about it, no. I don’t go there. It is very personal, and I feel angry,” he says.
He’s angry it was allowed to happen.
“I mean, this wouldn’t have gone on in a Dublin 4 area. You’d have had the army out. But here it was only Inchicore and nobody gave a damn. Everyone just turned their backs and called the people names, that’s all. And that’s not the way to deal with it,” he says.
“Can we move around?”
O’Meara takes a few steps and is back in the sun. He uncrosses his arms, starts pointing at things again.
Back when the cemetery reopened, there were plots for sale. His wife said to get two, so the whole family could be together – them, their kids, their grandkids.
“Yes, I have a bit of land in Goldenbridge,” he says.
They weren’t too dear. The funeral will be more expensive, of course, but he says he’s not too hung up on pomp and circumstance.
“You could put me in a shopping trolley and wheel me across,” he says. “Nobody’s ever asked to see my grave before. I’m excited now.”
He talks about the new book he’s working on, about the railway, as he walks over to a grassy spot clear of trees and headstones. He stands on his plots and jokes that he’ll be able to get a tan there.
Later, O’Meara is back in the lobby of Richmond Barracks, talking about all the other books he’s written. There was a trilogy about old Dublin, including one about a blind street poet named Zozimus.
He wrote the one on his literary hero, Francis Ledwidge. He wrote a play about him as well. It ran for a week in the Pearse Theatre a few years ago.
“It’s a sad story about a guy getting killed, so I put a few jokes in it,” O’Meara says.
It went well, and he hopes to do it again sometime.
O’Meara has to go. He walks out the front doors of the barracks. He lives on the other side of the cemetery now. He walks slowly, with the tiniest hint of a limp, across the green.